Truth, Fiction, or Just Plain Fun? Shipwrecked! At the Human Race Theater

From the very first line, Cromer is captivating as Louis de Rougemont.

Review By Emily Clemenson

Get ready to sail the seas with this fantastical telling of bravery, survival and celebrity.

Shipwrecked! An Entertainment: The Amazing Adventures of Louis de Rougemont (as Told by Himself) by Donald Margulies, now at the Human Race Theatre Company, starts as the story about an adventurous young man, setting out on a quest to see the world. Louis de Rougemont, played by the talented Bruce Cromer, serves as the story’s narrator and main character. The show opens with de Rougemont flanked by two actors, Shonita Joshi and Andrew Ian Adams, who facilitate the telling of his tales by each playing dozens of characters.

Bruce Cromer in Shipwrecked! at Human Race Theatre.
Bruce Cromer in Shipwrecked! at Human Race Theatre. Photos by Scott J Kimmins.

The Cast

From the very first line, Cromer is captivating as Louis de Rougemont. He embodies the 1800s explorer persona with gusto, never faltering in the voice and tone of a storyteller. It is hard to look away from his expressive face and extravagant gestures, and the story would be delightful if Cromer was on the stage by himself.

Luckily for us, his performance is only enhanced by the talents of Shonita Joshi and Andrew Ian Adams. 

Joshi is a talented character actor who seamlessly and believably switches costumes, props and accents as she flows between characters as Player 1. She is especially entertaining as the pearl-seeking sea captain (pay special attention for the times that the captain lifts his eye patch to see better) and Yamba, de Rougemont’s love interest. 

Adams as Player 2 is clearly so comfortable on the stage at the Human Race Theatre Company that the audience will eat up every last morsel that he serves. His standout characterizations are as Bruno the dog and Queen Victoria, but Adams is so versatile, he’s fantastic in every role he personifies.

Both actors will leave the audience anticipating whomever they plan to be next, and it is wonderful.

Cast of Shipwrecked! at Human Race Theatre.
Cast of Shipwrecked! at Human Race Theatre. Photos by Scott J Kimmins.

The Creative Team for Shipwrecked!

It would be impossible to walk into the theater and not immediately notice the incredible scenic design by D. Tristan Cupp. The stage thrust is covered in an illustrated map, surrounded by images from mythology and adventure. The haphazard look of the set pieces turn out to be all functional multipurpose props, designed by Sarah Gomes, such as the trunk that that becomes a table, a chair, a sailboat and later a bathtub.

The versatile costume design by Molly Walz is also worth mentioning; uniquely costuming dozens of characters that are easy to slip in and out of is no small feat. The unique way that de Rougemont’s removal of layers is indicative of his harrowing adventures as his life falls apart, the addition of articles as he re-enters London society is equally impressive. 

The Director

Director Greg Hellems clearly had a vision for the show, and he knocked it out of the park. The way that everything came together – acting, scenic design, costuming, lighting, sound and effects — he takes the audience on a wild ride. We land disoriented, cheering for de Rougemont even when we aren’t sure if we should, sure to leave the theater with a fond smile.

The creative team also includes the sound design of John Gromada, sound effects by Bailey Olean, and lighting by John Rensel. Sound, effects and lighting truly immerse the audience into the tall tale every step of the way and are a fantastic asset as we traverse stormy seas. 

The only mildly cringy part of the show – of no particular fault of the cast or creative team – is the way Australian Aboriginal people are portrayed. The play, written in 2009, is clearly much kinder to the indigenous peoples than a true 1890s British portrayal would have been, but I’d like to think we’ve made some progress since then. That said, the creative team and cast seemed to handle it with a degree of respect and reverence, and I can’t point to a specific thing I would have liked to see handled differently.

Cast of Shipwrecked! at Human Race Theatre.
Cast of Shipwrecked! at Human Race Theatre. Photos by Scott J Kimmins.

In Conclusion

In real life, de Rougemont was exposed as a fraud and hoax early in the 20th century. At the time, it was written, “Truth is stranger than fiction, But De Rougemont is stranger than both.” This play holds true to that claim, and the audience is here for it.

Tickets for Shipwrecked!

Shipwrecked! runs until March 10. The run time is about 1 hour and 45 minutes with no intermission. Tickets are still available for most performances on the Human Race Theatre Company’s website. Take special note of the post-show talkback at the matinee on March 3. Also, there is a Parents’ Day Out performance on March 9.

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